Chapter 2: A
The two students
who sat in the small anteroom to Professor McGonagall’s bell tower office were
both girls and both Gryffindors, but that was where the similarities
ended. The younger girl seemed very
much at ease surrounded by bookshelves and scrolls. She was no stranger to this room or the office of her teacher, as
she had spent many hours here after her regular lessons, working on special
assignments to extend her already advanced Transfigurations skills. The older girl, much taller and more
athletic than her fellow student, swung her legs and kicked at the bookshelf
closest to her chair, as though any period of waiting, especially if it
involved sitting silently and still, was beyond her.
the older girl muttered impatiently. “How much longer is she going to be?” The
hands of the clock on the opposite wall swept around the clock face several
times, stopping at the place which showed, “Even if she is running a little
late, getting impatient will do you no good!”
“I think your
appointment time was after mine,” Hermione Granger reminded the older girl
cautiously. Angelina Johnson was famous
for her temper, but today Hermione didn’t care. Hermione’s final O.W.L. examination, Arithmancy, had taken place
that morning and she had promised her friends she would meet them at the lake
for lunch. So, even though she always
enjoyed chatting with Professor McGonagall, she was unwilling to spend any more
time in the professor’s office on this sunny day than she absolutely had to.
Mrs. Norris, the
caretaker’s cat, darted out of the cat flap in Professor McGonagall’s
door. Shortly afterwards, Hogwart’s
acting headmistress opened the door to invite Hermione Granger in.
“Thank you for your
patience, dear,” Minerva McGonagall said as she moved two saucers of milk from
her desktop. “Mrs. Norris doesn’t seem to appreciate that we humans need to
schedule our time, but what she had to say was important.” She picked up some
brightly coloured brochures from her desk and handed one of them to Hermione. “And
what I have to say to you is important as well.”
with curiosity at the leaflet that had been placed in her hands. It bore the unmistakable red and white
flowing script of the Brews-U-Like trademark.
A black and white wizard photo on the cover showed an implausibly
attractive group of young witches and wizards frolicking on a beach, each
holding a different bottle of a Brews-U-Like potion. The prettiest, fairest witch took a swig from a Veelapop bottle
and waved as several young wizards looked on adoringly. Hermione sniffed disapprovingly. Too many witches and wizards were relying on
these mass produced, mass marketed potions these days. She feared that her own generation might be
the last to even learn how to concoct a brew. For this reason, Hermione was
singularly unimpressed to read the banner at the foot of the frolicking
photograph, which announced an international potions essay competition.
Hermione said indignantly.
“What was that,
Miss Granger?” Professor McGonagall asked as she settled into her chair.
“Well, the nerve of
them,” Hermione explained as she read the brochure aloud, “sponsoring a competition to encourage
excellence in the study of potions and concoctions. What they really want is to encourage the
brainwashing of young people to buy their third rate brews. Honestly, what’s
next? Vending machines in the common rooms?”
“What are vending
machines?” asked Minerva McGonagall, genuinely confused.
contraptions, it doesn’t matter. But
really, who would want to associate their school’s name with that lot?”
“Well, let me see,”
Professor McGonagall said icily as she peered over her spectacles. “Beauxbatons
Academy of Magic, Durmstrang Institute, most of the Ministry of Magic’s
comprehensive schools in England and a very old boarding school up here in the
north known as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
deeply. “I’m sorry Professor, I only
meant -” she began.
“Your meaning was
abundantly clear, Miss Granger,” the acting headmistress continued. In a softer tone, she added, “My dear, you
really do need to learn that at times it doesn’t serve your purpose to wear
your heart on your sleeve. All your
noble causes, equal rights for elves, saving the Hippogriffs and what-not - as
you get older you might have to accept that you can’t change the world simply
by complaining loudly. I’m not
suggesting you should forsake all these high ideals, but you will need to take
a more pragmatic approach. You might
even, Merlin forbid, have to compromise, when it’s in everybody’s best
interests that you do so.”
Hermione knew that
her favorite teacher was speaking the truth.
However, she also had an uncomfortable feeling that Professor McGonagall
was about to ask her to put this good advice into action. “Well, I suppose,” she admitted reluctantly,
“if the contest is attracting such a high quality of contestant, the
sponsorship isn’t that important.”
“Yes, and if a
contestant of such high quality was willing to set aside her own scruples, her
school would be very grateful if that contestant would compete,”
Professor McGonagall said pointedly.
Hermione was not
sure of her teacher’s meaning. “The
competition’s for seventh years, isn’t it?” she asked.
“The essay topic
would suggest a seventh year level of knowledge, but I don’t believe it would
be beyond you. Neither does Professor
Snape,” McGonagall replied, fixing her pupil with a determined stare. “Our only
real concern was whether you’d be willing to put the good of the school
first. I think you would show a great
deal of maturity, and leadership qualities, if you could.”
McGonagall’s meaning was crystal clear.
Hermione had been mortified at the beginning of the year to learn that
no fifth year students had been chosen as prefects. In fact, being a fifth year prefect had become a rare honour.
None had been named since Percy Weasley. What Hermione did not know was that
the teaching staff of Hogwarts had universally agreed at the end of Percy’s
reign that, to quote Severus Snape, “Three years was a long time to put up with
that officious pillock.” From that day
forward, unless a student proved to be truly, amazingly, fabulously
exceptional, everybody was just going to have to wait until sixth year to get
his or her prefect badge.
A prefect badge was
something that Hermione Granger craved.
Perhaps not as much as the downfall of the Dark Lord. But she wanted to be a prefect very nearly
as much as she wanted the end of elf slavery, or the quashing of anti-Muggle
prejudices, even nearly as much as she wanted a tall, freckly fellow student to
stop horsing around and pay her a bit more serious attention. Professor McGonagall’s strategy had exactly
the desired effect. “I’ll give it a
shot then,” said Hermione.
Out in the
anteroom, Angelina Johnson was also reflecting on her life’s ambition. She had never been an academically inclined
student, but Angelina had captained Gryffindor through its first undefeated
season in the history of Quidditch at Hogwarts. Up until the Quidditch Cup final victory, the best Angelina could
hope for was a job as a flying instructor at a Ministry-run comprehensive
school. Now, thanks to Rita Skeeter’s
laudatory reporting of the game, she had in her school trunk a contract from
the Holyhead Harpies. She had a chance
to play third reserve Chaser in the Great Britain Quidditch League!
was becoming worried that this dream was never destined to come true. Angelina had turned eighteen last October,
but the Directors of the Harpies Quidditch Club were all conservative matrons,
who required parental consent for any of their recruits under the age of
twenty-one. Her father, unreasonable
ghoul that he was, refused to sign her contract until Angelina passed her exams
with at least six N.E.W.T. levels.
Angelina studied for her N.E.W.T.s harder than she had ever studied
before, which unhappily was not saying very much.
But even her meager
efforts as a scholar looked like they had been in vain. For, as Angelina Johnson sat outside the
acting headmistress’ office, the unpalatable truth was beginning to dawn on
her. She was about to be expelled. And it
would all be the fault of that steaming pile of unicorn manure, Fred Weasley.
unhappily that Fred and his idiot twin, George, had also been desperate to
obtain half a dozen N.E.W.T. levels. It
had eventually occurred to those two numbskulls that the goblins in Gringotts
would not lend money to a pair of dunces, no matter how diverting their plans
for a joke shop might seem. However, to
improve their chances the twins had decided that a spot of “Gred and Forging”
would be in order.
“Gred and Forging”
was not an original prank by the Weasley twin’s standards. It was the same ruse
played by identical twins the world over, ever since Ug decided it might be a
good joke to put on Thug’s bear skin and trick his mum into giving him a second
helping of mammoth. However, the “Gred
and Forging” that had taken place that May had not simply been to obtain
another slice of carrot cake. Fred had pulled this off when they were four. It
was not even to snog Angelina. Unbeknownst to Angelina, George had managed
this, on a bet from his brother, when they were seventeen. No, in May, “Gred and Forging” was required
for a far more important purpose, because six N.E.W.T levels had been at stake.
slightly from the tests set for younger students, in that there was a much
greater emphasis on inter vivos examinations.
Wizards and witches from the Magical Educational Standards Board
descended on the school en masse and quizzed Hogwarts students, individually
and behind closed doors, on the depth of their magical knowledge. Fred and
George Weasley realised that the only hope they would have was to divide and conquer, so
they set about splitting their workload.
It was agreed that Fred would sit for Care of Magical Creatures, History
of Magic and Muggle Studies twice. George
in the other hand would have a double helping of Transfigurations, Charms and
Defence Against the Dark Arts. The plan
was so elegantly simple that it was destined to fail from the start.
did not begin to unravel until George’s (aka Fred’s) Transfigurations
final. George had made a fair attempt
at transfiguring a toffee apple into a toucan, but the bird’s feathers had
remained a little sticky. While setting
the toucan free out the classroom window, George found a number of brightly coloured
feathers had become stuck to his hands and robes. He then had to depart the exam room, quickly pick the sticky
plumage off, and return as “Frederick Weasley” moments later. A bright red
feather remained stuck to his right elbow.
The examiner, an aged witch with rheumy eyes, stared at him
intently. The examiner asked him to
explain. George stammered some story
about bumping into his brother in the hallway, but the examiner’s face showed
she believed none of it. “Frederick
Weasley’s” bird was even gooier than his brother’s, and it still had a stick.
reported the matter to the school.
Professor McGonagall acted swiftly and decisively, so that the Weasley
twins barely had time to drink a bottle of Brews-U-Like Sneakypop (a popular truth
serum antidote) before being hauled into the bell tower office. Naturally, the
Transfiguration teacher was able to prove nothing, but a great deal of
suspicion remained. Fred and George
both ran to Angelina afterwards, begging her to back up their alibi. Which is why, thought Angelina, I’m
sitting here about to be interrogated, without the benefit of Sneakypop, and
then I’ll be expelled. And I hope Fred
and George Weasley get fed to an Acromantula for this.
McGonagall’s door opened and Hermione Granger emerged with a leaflet in her
hand, looking a little chastened. From
within the office, the acting headmistress’ voice called, “Come in,
Angelina.” To Angelina’s confusion, she
sounded almost lighthearted, especially when she added, “I have a sporting
proposition for you.”